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A Call to Arms -- "Save Lick Observatory"
by Paul Robinson

Congratulations-UC Rescinds decision not to fund Lick Observatory
Read more:

Lick Observatory, the historic astronomy site threatened a year ago by University of California budget cuts, has received a two-year $1 million gift from Google to keep its telescopes operating. Read more:

       Last December, 2013, something near and dear to many of us -- Lick Observatory perched atop Mt. Hamilton in hills of east San Jose -- was placed on the UC's chopping block. Astounding as this may sound, given its colorful history and contributions to the field of astronomy right up to the present day, it could become a reality soon if actions aren't taken now to prevent it.

Many of you may still remember back in the 1990's when over 60 members of our Section of AAPT got a chance to tour the 120-inch Shane reflector as well as the Great 36-inch Refractor. Just the ride up the hill was an unforgettable experience for many of us. The same road horses that hauled every piece of equipment used when it opened in 1880.

We as teachers and members of AAPT can make a difference towards saving Lick Observatory. Years ago, the CA Academy of Science closed down the Foucault Pendulum outside the old planetarium with no intent to install it in the new building. However, an ensuing outcry lead by many of us physics teachers ignited a public outcry that reversed this unwise decision. Now children and adults alike enjoy this classic proof of the earth's rotation today and for years to come.

In a second example, not that long ago the Hubble Space Telescope funding was canceled by NASA only to have its incredibly productive lifetime extended many years by public outcry.

I hope you will take the time to read Alex Filippenko's article published in the San Jose Mercury News and I personally encourage you and others you know to join the ranks of us who wish to save this astronomical treasure by joining the Friends of Lick Observatory.

Together, our voices can be heard so that Lick can be saved for future generations.

"Music of the Spheres" at Lick Observatory
       A public outreach program that includes a musical concert in the main building exhibit hall of Lick Observatory. Performances are followed by a lecture by a renowned astronomer and then viewing through the Great Lick 36-inch Refractor and the 40-inch Nickel Reflector (weather permitting). Proceeds benefit the Friends of Lick Observatory (
       Advanced reservations required--no tickets are sold at the door. Tickets are $40, $90, and $150. For more information go to:


*** As part of the 14th annual Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series, on February 26th, astronomer Alex Filippenko, Ph.D., of UC Berkeley, discussed Exploding Stars, New Planets, Black Holes and the Crisis at Lick Observatory, in the Smithwick Theatre at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. Here is the lecture (Youtube).

Op-Ed for the San Jose Mercury News; January 8, 2014

Lick Observatory: A Vibrant Facility for Research and Education
by Alex Filippenko

As reported in these pages (12/17/13, "Lick Observatory's astronomy research could end"), University of California administrators intend to terminate funding for Lick Observatory by 2016x2018. We, and many of our UC astronomy colleagues, believe that the facilities at Lick continue to provide invaluable and unique scientific opportunities for UC, a marvelous training ground for students, and an important and very popular venue for public outreach and education, attracting 35,000 visitors annually. The planned curtailment of UC funding, which has publicly thrown Lick's future into doubt, reflects a lack of understanding of the importance of Lick to UC, to California, and to astronomy as a whole.

From its site atop Mt. Hamilton overlooking San Jose, Lick serves astronomers from eight UC campuses plus two national laboratories, and over 100 researchers ranging from undergraduate students to professors conduct observations there. Lick is the only observatory that is fully under UC's control, allowing it to provide crucial time and space for developing new telescopes and technologies. Though no longer among the world's largest, Lick's telescopes are very powerful x partly because generous observing time is available, enabling UC researchers to carry out long-term, in-depth studies that are impossible in the few nights per year available on giant telescopes elsewhere. Moreover, students and postdoctoral scholars can design and conduct their own projects at Lick, adding immensely to their scientific development. Lick's 126-year history of conducting forefront research continues to this day with vibrant and diverse observing programs. Highlights of ongoing research include studies of supernova explosions, which laid the groundwork for the Nobel prize-winning discovery of dark energy; discoveries of numerous planets orbiting nearby stars using the Doppler technique that was pioneered at Lick; and observations of galaxy centers that provide detailed views of the environments of super massive black holes. A new 2.4-meter Automated Planet Finder telescope is a formidable tool for finding potentially habitable planets around the nearest stars. Lick also serves as a proving ground for cutting-edge "adaptive optics" technology that counteracts blurring by the Earth's atmosphere. A new (2014) adaptive optics system includes numerous technical innovations that will help to enable next-generation giant telescopes to produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Lick continues to play a vital role as a component of UC's suite of astronomical facilities, together with the twin Keck 10-meter telescopes and the future Thirty-Meter Telescope. The technologies used to build state-of-the-art cameras and spectrographs for these enormous telescopes need prototyping and testing, and the observers who use them gain tremendous benefit from the training and experience that they obtain at smaller facilities. Even in the era of giant telescopes, observatories like Lick still serve as incubators both for new astronomical technologies and for the next generation of scientific talent.

Why would such a valuable facility face the ax? The answer is partly an accident of UC science funding. The UC Observatories, as a system-wide resource, depend on centralized UC funding and appear as a single budget item whereas other research is supported by individual campuses. This makes astronomy highly visible and vulnerable to cost-cutting at the UC Office of the President, despite the fact that it is no more costly to UC as a whole than other sciences. Lick Observatory itself is highly cost-effective: less than 10% of UC's system-wide astronomy funds are used to support Lick, but its telescopes are used by roughly half of UC's observers.

What can interested individuals do? First, urge UC leadership ( to continue UC's core support for Lick Observatory. Then consider ways in which you, or perhaps the organization you work for, can partner with UC to help preserve and enhance this distinguished Bay Area icon, established by a historic bequest from James Lick in 1876. A group called the Friends of Lick Observatory has been formed to build such partnerships.

Visit to learn more about Lick programs and how you can help.

Alexei V. Filippenko (Professor of Astronomy, Goldman Chair in the Physical Sciences,
UC Berkeley)
Claire E. Max (Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, UC Santa Cruz)
Aaron J. Barth (Professor of Physics and Astronomy, UC Irvine)

Information for San Jose Mercury News:

Dr. Alexei V. Filippenko
Department of Astronomy
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-3411

Dr. Claire E. Max
UC Observatories
University of California
Santa Cruz, CA 95064

Dr. Aaron J. Barth
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA 92697
949-824-3013 Homepage